The cattle tick, Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) spp. is a key vector of protozoa that cause bovine babesiosis. Largely eradicated from most of the United States, the cattle tick continues to infest south Texas, and recent outbreaks in this area may signal a resurgence of cattle tick populations despite current management efforts. An improved understanding of the dynamic ecology of cattle fever ticks along the U.S.-Mexico border is required to devise strategies for sustainable eradication efforts. Management areas of the cattle tick overlap considerably with dense, wide infestations of the non-native, invasive grass known as giant reed (Arundo donax L.). Here we show that stands of giant reed are associated with abiotic and biotic conditions that are favorable to tick survival, especially when compared with other nearby habitats (open pastures of buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) and closed canopy native forests). Overhead canopies in giant reed stands and native riparian forests reduce daily high temperature, which was the best abiotic predictor of oviposition by engorged females. In sites where temperatures were extreme, specifically open grasslands, fewer females laid eggs and the resulting egg masses were smaller. Pitfall trap collections of ground dwelling arthropods suggest a low potential for natural suppression of tick populations in giant reed stands. The finding that A. donax infestations present environmental conditions that facilitate the survival and persistence of cattle ticks, as well or better than native riparian habitats and open grasslands, represents an alarming complication for cattle fever tick management in the United States.
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Vol. 49 • No. 2